This unlikely adaptation of Mark Haddon's fascinating novel, narrated by...

This unlikely adaptation of Mark Haddon's fascinating novel, narrated by a boy with autism, won seven Olivier Awards in London. Credit: Joan Marcus

The official website is named, and that certainly sums up the prerequisite for adventurous theatergoers at "The Curious Incident of the Dog in Night-Time." The import -- which arrives from Britain's National Theatre with six Olivier Awards including one for best play -- creates the childlike, overwhelming, high-tech world inside the head of Christopher, the 15-year-old autistic science genius in a small town near London.

Anyone who admired Mark Haddon's 2003 best-selling novel must surely wonder how playwright Simon Stephens and "War Horse" director Marianne Elliott could possibly translate the magical first-person story of this excruciatingly literal boy to the stage. They manage this with a stark set (by Bunny Christie) lined in graph-paper walls and floors upon which to show us the boggling math and the disassociated reality in Christopher's mind.

They also visualize his universe with Finn Ross' staggeringly imaginative video designs and not one but two hyper-inventive choreographers. One is Scott Graham, the other is Steven Hoggett, identifiable by some of the story-theater techniques that made "Peter and the Starcatcher" both clever and overly cute. Actors play appliances and automated teller machines, as needed.

The results brilliantly capture the sensory overload in the journey of a sweet, compulsive, instinctive and unpredictably violent child as he investigates the murder of his neighbor's dog Wellington. What the adaptation does not do, at least until the very end, is transcend the spectacle to dig out the emotional life that coexists with Christopher's confusing perceptions.

Alex Sharp, a recent Juilliard graduate in his Broadway debut, is spectacular as a boy who seldom makes eye contact, yowls when frustrated and has violent tantrums when touched. In a production so physical that it often seems like a full-length modern dance, Sharp makes the strenuous nonstop movement so unselfconscious that we are seldom tempted to imagine "Rain Man: the Ballet."

But Stephens' solution to the adaptation challenge may also be its problem. In the novel, we read Christopher's words in his own voice. Here his thoughts feel distant as they are read by his caring teacher (Francesca Faridany), who has convinced him to write them into what becomes a play.

Ian Barford has a sturdy, good-guy gruffness as the father who adores him. Enid Graham is suitably conflicted as the restless mother, and other actors switch roles gracefully as townsfolk and people on the train ride to London. I am filled with admiration for all, but I had hoped to be enraptured.

WHAT "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time"

WHERE Barrymore Theatre, 243 W. 47th St.

INFO $27-$129; 212-239-6200;

BOTTOM LINE Visual brilliance and a breakout debut.

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